Pets allowed
Not Allowed
Elevation Gain
200.00 ft (60.96 m)
Trail type
There-and-back
Distance
10.00 mi (16.09 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

With towering canyon walls and a perennial flowing creek, Aravaipa Canyon is a lush riparian ecosystem in the middle of an otherwise dry desert landscape. Located in Southeastern Arizona between Tucson and Phoenix, this remote and rugged canyon can be found at the base of the Galiuro Mountains within 19,410 acres of designated wilderness. An area that offers hikers and backpackers a place of solitude among its picturesque landscapes and abundance of flora and fauna.

Aravaipa Canyon is known for its immense biodiversity due to the perennial creek that flows through the canyon, Aravaipa Creek.  Scattered along the banks of the creek, you can find towering Cottonwoods, Willows, Sycamores, Arizona Alder and Arizona Walnut trees. On the upper reaches of the canyon you will see a more arid desert landscape full of Saguaros, brush and other cacti.  Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness is home to more than 150 different species of birds, javelina, deer, coyote, ringtails, coatimundi, bobcats, black bear, mountain lions, raccoons and many other small animals. Be sure to keep an eye out while hiking because you can often spot desert Bighorn Sheep up on the rocky ledges. Due to the abundance of wildlife within the canyon, it is recommended to carry bear spray and have an approved bear canister for storing food and toiletries while backpacking.

A permit is required for each person entering the wilderness boundaries and can be obtained through Recreation.gov. Permits sell out quickly so be sure to plan in advance. There are only 50 permits awarded per day for the entire wilderness area, 30 permits given to hikers entering from the West Trailhead and 20 permits to those entering from the East Trailhead, with a group size maximum of 10.  Backpackers can stay within the wilderness for up to 2 nights, 3 days but need to purchase a permit for each day staying within the canyon.  The most popular route for accessing Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness is from the West Trailhead just outside of Winkleman, Arizona.  Although the last few miles enroute to this trailhead are on a gravel road, it is well maintained and easily accessible via passenger car.  To enter the canyon from the East Trailhead, a high clearance 4x4 vehicle is required as the road is very rough and sometimes impassible due to several creek crossing in an area prone to flash flooding.

Starting from the West Trailhead, an easy to follow trail quickly descends to the bottom of the canyon, making its way to Aravaipa Creek.  As soon as you reach the creek you'll start hiking upstream, passing by some private property before entering the wilderness boundary.  There is no official trail through the canyon but you can often find paths on each side of the creek as you make your way upstream.  Just be prepared to spend a lot of time hiking right down the middle of the creek.  At times the canyon is so narrow there is no option to walk on dry land.  Some bushwacking and route finding might come into play when navigating upstream through the canyon, flash floods frequently change the landscape and trails can become blocked by debris flows. The entire length of the canyon from the West Trailhead to the East Trailhead is 12.25 miles over uneven terrain with an elevation gain of 430 feet. Most people entering from the West Trailhead choose to backpack in about 5 miles and set up basecamp in a large flat shaded area just before Horse Camp Canyon. This popular camping area stretches for about 0.25 miles with plenty of room for multiple camps while still maintaining privacy.  Hiking through the canyon is slow going due to the lack of maintained trails, bushwacking, and hiking through the creek, so be sure to plan for extra time while hiking.  After a night of camping, most people opt to hike further upstream to continue exploring the wilderness area.  Aravaipa Canyon has 11 side canyons, some of which have seasonal waterfalls, so there is no shortage of things to see and places to explore. Even with camping for two nights, you can't see everything in one trip.  This hike is most popular during the spring and fall.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Winter
Spring
Summer
Fall

Congestion

Low

Parking Pass

Permit

Open Year-round

Yes

Days

3

Pros

Solitude. Scenic. Perennial creek.

Cons

Bears and other large predators.

Trailhead Elevation

2,600.00 ft (792.48 m)

Highest point

2,800.00 ft (853.44 m)

Features

Near lake or river
Backcountry camping
Wildlife
Big Game Watching
Wildflowers
Bird watching
Cave
Native artifacts

Typically multi-day

Yes

Permit required

Yes

Permit self-issue on site

Yes

Location

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